14.05.24 Business

Spotlight on: How to navigate the Science Based Target Initiative’s Corporate Net Zero Standard

Before joining Clarke Willmott as Head of ESG, Karen Higgins led Grant Thornton into the history books, making it the first accountancy firm in the world to commit to science-based targets and have them verified by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).

Karen has now led Clarke Willmott on the same journey, and earlier this year the firm celebrated the verification of its [near-term and net-zero] targets. As committing to SBTi is a complex process, we asked Karen to share a simple overview of the five-step process and her top tips for navigating each part of the journey.   

What is SBTi?

The SBTI’s Corporate Net Zero Standard offers businesses a clear path to setting net zero targets, which are in line with climate science and what is needed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C. It’s intended for companies with more than 500 employees, but there is a simplified route for SMEs. For Clarke Willmott, it’s the gold standard and a credible commitment, which is important to us as a firm and to our employees, clients, and suppliers, who are increasingly using SBTi to choose who they work with or for.

What are the Science Based Targets businesses need to set?

There are two types of targets that you can set, near-term and net-zero, and these will be examined and verified by the SBTi and published on their website.

  • Near-term targets: 5–10-year targets which will drive your business forward rapidly to significantly reduce emissions
  • Net zero target: long-term target which will pave the way for your business to reduce emissions by 90-100%.

Tip: You don’t have to set your net-zero target at the same time as your near-term targets, but my advice is that you may as well set both, as you’ll be doing much of the work needed as part of your near-term target-setting.

How do you commit to Science Based Targets?

Before you make your commitment it’s important to recognise this isn’t something to go into lightly, it’s a complex process and requires a lot of work. However, the SBTi website is fantastic and has everything you need and there are plenty of free tools and resources out there to support you.

To commit to Science Based Targets, you need to follow a five-step process:

1. Submit your letter of intent to commit – register online and submit a letter to commit. Once you have submitted your letter, you have 24 months to submit your targets.

  • Tip: It can be helpful to understand your carbon footprint before you submit your letter of intent e.g. what activity sits within Scope 1-3? Where does your data come from and who do you need to collect it?

2. Develop your targets – review the SBTi criteria and use their target-setting tool to develop your targets. We were supported by our environmental consultants, Green Element in this process but there are free online tools available to help you.

  • Tip: Data has been our biggest challenge, and it can feel overwhelming, so my advice is to start with Scope 1 and 2, as the data is often easier to collect.

3. Submit your targets – book your targets for validation and complete your target submission form.

  • Tip: Target verification can take a few months, but you don’t need to wait to start reducing your emissions. Use this time to create a transition plan and set yourself milestones to monitor your progress.

4. Communicate – declare your commitment and targets.

  • Tip: Remember your employees, clients and suppliers are interested and will want to know about your commitment and how you intend to achieve your goals.

5. Disclose – be transparent and report your progress.

  • Tip: If you are facing challenges with data reporting, be transparent about this challenge. I have learnt to accept this is an imperfect process!

Although it is a lot of work, making this commitment and working with the SBTi has been hugely beneficial. We have a much greater understanding of where we can transition in each area, how we can go further to reach our targets, and most importantly we have total assurance that what we are doing is aligned with the science and that as a business we are playing our part to avoid catastrophic climate change.


Clarke Willmott has recently had their Science Based Targets verified and has publicly declared a net zero target of 2040. To find out more about their climate commitments and initiatives visit: www.clarkewillmott.com/our-commitment-to-net-zero


Find out more about the Climate Action Programme

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